Several WCG writers discuss Velus’ draft value, his ceiling, his floor, and of course, Aaliyah
Everyone was hoping the Chicago Bears would draft a wide receiver in the 2022 draft. Most of us were hoping they’d do it in round two. When the Bears finally did draft Velus Jones Jr. in the third round at Pick 71, many were surprised by the name. Some were disappointed, and some were excited by the potential he would bring to Chicago. Here’s how WCG reacted then, and how we feel about him now.
1) What did you think about the Bears using pick 71 on Velus Jones Jr.?
ECD: Oh boy. At first, I said “it’s about F’n time” that Ryan Poles and Co. gave Justin Fields some help, and F-I-N-A-L-L-Y added a prospect to the biggest hole on their roster. Then, I also saw my guy Jalen Tolbert was still on the board, and disliked the pick more than I should. Jalen Tolbert is the more polished player by a considerable margin. So go figure the Cowboys scooped him up a few picks later.
Then, I had to go back on my notes, and remembered he had a late minute buzz from people around the league. His grades were wild – some had him as high as a 2nd rounder, others had him as low as a 5th rounder. Jim Nagy, the Director of the Senior Bowl, mentioned during an interview that the reason he invited Velus Jones Jr. was because, “he was a player that resembled Deebo Samuel. And the League wants more Deebo Samuels.” After more consideration, I came around to accept, then at least give the pick a chance. This is a player whose stock rose quickly before the draft commenced. And, he’s instantly the best kick returner on the Bears’ roster. One that’ll allow for young RB Khalil Herbert to focus on what is likely a growing role on offense.
He’s a real boom-or-bust pick in the 3rd round. If Luke Getsy and his staff can untap the potential of Velus Jones Jr., while he continues his development as a receiver, he could be an incredible find. However, I also hope that the Bears don’t force him into a bigger role than what he’s ready for right now. He can’t be asked to save what is currently an extremely weak group at receiver.
Josh: I don’t love the thought of going after a player more notable for his combine performance than for his on-field accomplishments. I really don’t love the idea of a guy who relies on physical mismatches instead of a defined skillset. That said, I like it better at #71 than at #7, and I like the idea that the team has a plan for him. It is the selection that makes me the most nervous, but I still like it more than half of the draft picks from the last decade.
Aaron: I know that there’s been every justification out there for why the Bears took him at No. 71 but I still think it was quite the reach. Not only did he really only produce for one season at the college level, metrics have shown that older prospects (25 by Week 1) have lower ceilings and a relatively low success rate. It’s also worth noting that speed at the receiver position is always overdrafted. I’ll never be convinced that there wasn’t better value on the board at receiver when the Bears made their third round selection.
Bill: I know he’s fast. I know Justin Fields told the Bears’ brass he wanted him. I’ve seen the flashy plays at Tennessee. But this pick was a reach. The Bears needed to get a receiver with this pick, and then went with the next receiver on their board. Trading down probably would have been wise, but I’m guessing at that point, Ryan Poles didn’t want to risk missing out on their guy. I think there were still a couple of receivers left on the board that would have been better selections than Jones.
Ken: I have no idea if it’s a good pick or a bad one, because I just don’t know anything about the guy other than what I’ve seen since the pick. I don’t follow college football, at all. I have no access to their scouting reports, interviews or process.
Sam: I am no expert, I don’t know how to scout these things but the guys I trust were less than thrilled, although EJ Snyder did concede that there would be variation in how Jones is ranked on teams’ boards. I’m glad they got a receiver, but Jones appears to come with significant boom/bust, leaning bust, potential.
Robert Z: If we’re talking about first thoughts: “A RECEIVER!!! I don’t care who!!!”
If we’re talking about the initial emotion dropped out of it: “Whoa, he’s already 25? And they want to use him like Deebo [Samuel]? Uh, alright.”
Lester: My initial reaction was, ‘Great, a wide receiver!’ Then there was a lot of, ‘but why not that other wide out.’ Followed by a lot of, ‘OMG, he’s like 25!’ But then after calming down and diving into a little tape, I see why the Bears made the pick. His yards after contact and yards after catch were both impressive in 2021, so I’ll have to wait and see how that translates to the NFL.
Patti: At first I was like, whaaat?? I hadn’t heard much about him and I had been hoping for Jalen Tolbert. But I was excited the Bears drafted a receiver and he was clearly the top receiver on the Bears board. I decided to give them the benefit of the doubt, and I got more excited the more I looked into him.
2) What do you see as Velus’ floor?
ECD: An adequate special teamer who will contribute in the 3rd phase right away. Then, if he can’t develop into anything more than a kick returner, he’ll fade into obscurity. Not a complete bust, but with arguably better receivers on the board at the time, one that’ll certainly make Ryan Poles regret not getting Justin Fields more help sooner.
Josh: Out of the league in two years.
Aaron: I would say someone who is forced into a prominent role and by Year 3 is somewhat phased out into a lesser role. I think the value of his versatility (coming out of the backfield or deep threat) will allow him to be a trick-type player for four-to-five years but he’ll also have to be a very good special teams player as well.
Bill: I think Velus’ floor is a solid special teams player. With his speed and experience, he should have a career, at a minimum, as a kick returner and a gunner. If he excels at those spots, he could have himself a strong 5-7 year NFL career as a team’s WR6 where he plays an occasional snap on offense, but is almost exclusively used on special teams.
Ken: Wasted draft pick, out of the league in two years.
Sam: The floor is always he’s out of the league in two years, but with his return ability, I think the floor is he’s mainly a journeyman returner for 4-5 years.
Robert Z: Out of the league in less than five years after failing to gain traction as a legitimate offensive player.
Lester: Worst case scenario he has a Jakeem Grant type of career. A top return guy that offenses can sprinkle into the game plan every now and then.
Patti: At the very least, he’ll be a solid special teamer as both a gunner and returner. I think he’ll definitely get at least a few plays on offense where he’s schemed opportunities to get the ball in space.
3) What do you see as his ceiling?
ECD: See, this is where I approach dangerous territory. Ryan Poles, Jim Nagy, and a few other NFL beat writers / insiders have made loose comparisons between Velus Jones Jr. and Deebo Samuel. Even the good ole, “I’m not comparing him to Deebo, but…” statement made by Ryan Poles shortly after Day 2 wrapped up. Luke Getsy surely has an entire package of plays already designed to get the ball into Velus’s hands in as many different ways as possible.
If anything, I think Velus Jones Jr. will be used in a similar fashion to how Ty Montgomery was utilized with the Green Bay Packers. And, truly, I feel that’s his ideal role. An absolute stud with ridiculous moments on Special Teams, coupled with big plays on offense. Not like Devin Hester. Not like Deebo Samuel. Or Tyreek Hill. But, a high performing player who can contribute in many ways. A real weapon.
Josh: 80% as good as Cordarelle Patterson, which is really good for a 3rd-round pick.
Aaron: Ultimately, I think his ceiling is somewhere around Marquez Valdes-Scantling and what we saw from Cordarrelle Patterson this past year. If he can be a quality deep threat and also provide valuable versatility out of the backfield and as a returner, I think this pick could end up being viewed as a good one. I’m not sure he’ll ever become a very good receiver due to his limited route tree but the potential is there to be a valuable weapon.
Bill: If Jones proves that his breakout season at Tennessee was just the beginning, I think he could settle in as a unique WR3-type that lines up all over the field and creates some matchup problems where he could push 1000 yards from scrimmage in a season. But I think he’s more likely a guy that gets 500-600 yards from scrimmage and flashes a couple big plays per season, but isn’t a consistent weapon in the offense.
Ken: WR 2, 1000 yard guy.
Sam: I mean best-cast scenario he’s a Deebo Samuel lite, right? But that seems far-fetched no matter what, I think the ceiling is probably a guy who can get 900-1,000+ all-purpose yards, with around a third of those coming from offense and the vast majority coming in the return game.
Robert Z: A middle-class Cordarrelle Patterson, except ideally used in a more efficient and quality fashion by a good offensive coaching staff. Maybe a Pro Bowl or two as a returner, too.
Lester: A special teams’ stalwart that can affect the game with about half the offensive snaps as a wide out, on jet sweeps, end arounds, and some occasional reps at tailback too. If he truly can become a WR2 or WR3 that would be outstanding.
Patti: It’s hard to find a perfect comp for Velus. He doesn’t have a traditional route running skillset, but he has shown the ability to get open at the SEC level. Based on his agility testing and what I’ve seen of his tape, I think his biggest limitation is stopping speed.
What he does have that’s special is a combination of elite speed with strength, balance, and vision which allowed him to be one of the best after-catch receivers in college football. I think if an offensive coordinator works to his strengths, he has the potential to be a productive #2 weapon with the speed to force defenses to account for his position on every play.
4) In 1994, the late great Aaliyah released the banger, “Age ain’t nothing but a number”. Does that wisdom apply to NFL draft picks or are you concerned about Velus’ age?
ECD: Eh, not really. Kyle Long was an old rookie when he was drafted, and he turned out just fine. Just as long as the Bears aren’t trying to anoint Velus Jones Jr. the savior to their receiving corps long-term.
Josh: I feel like I answered this one pretty extensively, because age absolutely does raise concerns for me when it comes to draft picks.
Aaron: Historically speaking, the age of a player is usually a direct reflection of his overall ceiling. Especially once you get out of the first round or two of the draft. The reality is quite simple for me. He beat up (for one year) on a bunch of 19 and 20 year olds at the college level. Now he’ll have to continue to improve his game, all while attempting to do the same thing against a much higher level of competition. Only time will tell how it all pans out.
Bill: If Jones was a guy that was putting up consistent numbers throughout his college career, I would be less concerned with his age. I mean, it’s not ideal that Jones will be up for his second contract when he’s 29, but the bigger issue for me is the breakout season. Jones had a combined 627 receiving yards in FIVE collegiate seasons before going over 800 last year. Jones was behind some good receivers at USC, but he also couldn’t beat out Tyler Vaughns who is yet to play a snap on Sunday. That trend really gives me pause that his breakout at Tennessee was due to physical development of a 24-year old playing with players 3-5 years younger than him.
Ken: (Editor’s note: rather than answer the final question, Ken chose to provide some insight into his earlier answers): Why did I come up with these answers? Because I don’t have a clue. Can he run routes? Dunno. Can he separate? Dunno. Can he catch the ball? Dunno. Can he stay healthy? Dunno.
Sam: In a sport where the average career is roughly three or four years, yeah it matters. Coming in older has some advantages as far as maturity and athletic peak, but it also means there’s not typically a lot of room for adding muscle mass. And for some perspective, Aaliyah’s song came out almost a full three years before Jones was born (Song debuted May 24, 1994, Jones was born May 11, 1997).
Robert Z: It absolutely applies to NFL draft picks.
Jones Jr. might have been a second-rounder if he wasn’t already in his mid-20s, and we wouldn’t even be having this conversation because he wouldn’t be on the Bears roster. News flash: Youth wins!
I am apprehensive about Jones Jr.’s age, considering he’ll have more pressure to produce and show he’s ready to be a weapon in the NFL right away. Fair or not, there should be less of a learning curve with his hopeful impact, and I know that he knows this. The problem of a potential second contract by the time he’s around 29/30 is an excellent problem to have (one the Bears don’t run into often!), as much as it might pain me then.
Lester: It’s a concern in that his growth as a player may not be as much had he been 21 when being drafted, but when the average career of an NFL player is about 3 years, and the chances a 3rd-round picks gets a second contract with their original team is about 60%, I’m not that worried about it. He’ll be 28 when his 4-year deal expires, and a 2 or 3 year deal is all you’d really want to give a wide receiver at that point anyway. Unless he’s elite that is, and if Jones is elite then no one would be complaining about the pick anyway.
Patti: It seems clear that Ryan Poles is an Aaliyah fan, but I think it’s a number that matters in the draft. It obviously factors into career longevity, and there’s a reasonable concern that older players may have less potential to continue to develop. The later I am less worried about in Velus’ case because he really only had one year where he was given the opportunity to play as a starting receiver in a system that worked for him. That’s less opportunity for on-field development than most younger receivers have had when drafted.
As you can see, we have a pretty wide variety of opinions on this new Bear. I’m sure you all have even more, so let’s hear them in the comments!